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Saleem describes the estate that once belonged to an Englishman, William
The estate is comprised of four identical houses, each
bearing the name of a different European palace. Saleem’s parents
buy one of the houses, agreeing to the conditions that they purchase
everything inside the house and that the legal transfer of property
will not occur until midnight, August 15. Methwold says that his
reasons for the conditions are allegorical, as he equates the sale
of his estate with the national transfer of sovereign power.
Saleem lists the other inhabitants of Methwold’s Estate:
Mr. Homi Catrack, a film magnate who lives with his idiot daughter;
old man Ibrahim, his sons, Ismail and Ishaq, and his wife, Nussie;
the Dubashes, who become parents of Cyrus, Saleem’s first mentor; Doctor
Narlikar; and finally, Commander Sabarmati, his wife, Lila, and
their two sons, who will grow up to be nicknamed Eyeslice and Hairoil.
As the transfer of power draws closer, the inhabitants of Methwold’s
Estate complain incessantly of having to live among Methwold’s things.
As the inhabitants settle in, they remain unaware of the fact that
they have begun to imitate Methwold’s habits, from the cocktail
hour he keeps to the accent with which he speaks.
The Times of India announces a prize
for any child born at the exact moment of independence. Still recalling
the prophet’s words, Amina declares that her son will win. The summer
rains begin, and Amina grows so heavy she can scarcely move. After
the rains end, Wee Willie Winkie, a poor clown, returns to the estate
to perform for Methwold and the new families. Willie Winkie tells
the crowd that his wife is expecting a child soon as well. Saleem
tells us that the child actually belongs to Methwold, who seduced
Winkie’s wife with his perfectly parted hair. Saleem’s narrative
then jumps to a church, where a midwife named Mary Pereira sits
in a confessional booth, telling the young priest about her relationship
with an orderly named Joseph D’ Costa, who has taken to committing
acts of violence against the British. Saleem says that on the night
of his birth, this woman made the most important decision in the
history of twentieth-century India. Back at Methwold’s Estate, Musa
is still “ticking like a time-bomb” as the hour approaches midnight.
On August 13, 1947, Bombay comes alive as the city prepares
for India’s imminent independence from the British. At midnight,
the nation of Pakistan will officially be created, a full day before
India will be declared independent. Violence breaks out on the borders
of Punjab and in Bengal.
A series of events occurs all at once, and Saleem’s narrative
skips between them. At Methwold’s Estate, Ahmed and William Methwold
drink cocktails in the courtyard. Meanwhile, at the old house on
Cornwallis Road, in Agra, Aadam Aziz rises from his bed and nostalgically
pulls out the perforated sheet, only to discover that moths have
eaten it. Back at Methwold’s Estate, Wee Willie Winkie’s wife, Vanita,
goes into labor. William Methwold walks into the courtyard of his
former compound, stands in the exact center, and salutes the landscape.
Shortly afterward, a sadhuji, or holy man, enters
the compound and sits under a dripping water tap. He proclaims that
he awaits the birth of the One, the Mubarak. As soon as he says
this, Amina goes into labor. Once the sun has set, Methwold ends
his salute and pulls off his hairpiece. Amina and Vanita lie in
adjacent rooms at the nursing home, and two boys are born at midnight.
Upon hearing the news, Ahmed drops a chair on his toes. In the ensuing
confusion, Mary Pereira switches the babies’ nametags in memory
of her revolutionary Joseph, giving Saleem, biologically the son
of Willie Winkie and Vanita, to Ahmed and Amina.
Padma interrupts the story to call Saleem a liar. He responds
by saying that even after his parents discovered what Mary Pereira
had done, they could not go back and erase the past, so he remained
their son. Saleem mentions a letter the prime minister sent when
he was born, which he buried in a cactus garden along with a newspaper article
titled “Midnight’s Child.” He tells us that the newspapermen who
came to take pictures of him gave his mother a pathetic sum of one
The small-scale property transfer at Methwold’s Estate
clearly corresponds to the larger political situation, as Great
Britain prepares itself to transfer sovereign power over India to
the independent governments of India and Pakistan. Neither transfer
is complete or uncomplicated. Just as independent India must now
deal with the cultural legacy of British colonialism, which remains
active long after the British vacate the country, so too will the
inhabitants of Methwold’s Estate have to live with physical reminders
of the estate’s former owner. The British continue to exert a powerful influence
over independent India, as symbolized by the unconscious ways the
Methwold residents begin conforming to Methwold’s customs. Methwold’s
nostalgia for his estate, in turn, echoes the wide-scale nostalgia
felt by the British upon leaving the former crown of their colonial
As the moment of Saleem’s birth approaches—ostensibly
the most significant event of the novel thus far—the narrative seems
to swell to the point of breaking. Saleem wants to take into account everything
he can, because everything, he believes, has been working in tandem
to arrive at this exact moment. In order to understand the significance
of his birth, Saleem reminds the reader of everything that came
before it and all the family history that went into making Saleem
who he is. However, after accumulating all this momentum, it becomes
clear that the history is actually someone else’s history—it
belongs to Shiva, the boy with whom Saleem gets switched at birth.
Thus the narrator isn’t actually related at all to the people whose
stories he has been detailing so meticulously. Significantly, in this
same chapter, Aadam discovers that the sacred perforated sheet has
been gnawed full of moth holes. As one of the central symbols of Saleem’s
story, the partial damage of the perforated sheet seems to bode
poorly for the truthfulness of the narrative as a whole.
However, Saleem remains the narrator of this tale, and
the story still fundamentally belongs to him. That Saleem has told
this family’s history as if it were his own highlights one of the
narrative’s central themes: that truth is created and shaped, not
fixed and static. Regardless of whether he is Ahmed and Amina’s
biological son, they raise him up in their family, and he enjoys
all the privileges and problems that birthright entails. Saleem
can rightfully claim the history he has told as his own, because
he believes it to be so. The truth of the situation, therefore,
At the same time, the fact that William Methwold, an Englishman,
is revealed to be Saleem’s biological father proves appropriate, given
that Saleem sees himself as the perfect embodiment of modern India.
The legacy of British colonialism has undoubtedly shaped the newly
independent India, just as William Methwold has undeniably shaped
Saleem. It is also important to note that by switching the nametags,
Mary Pereira makes a distinct political decision. Alhough her primary
motivation remains a romantic one, Mary nonetheless attempts to
redress the vast social divide that separates rich from poor. The
child of a poor woman who dies in labor and an English father who
has returned to England, Saleem turns out to be an extraordinarily
apt representative of the new Indian nation.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Midnight’s Children!